ReviewsReview: Samba de AmigoReviews - RSS 2.0
The key difference between Samba de Amigo and most other rhythm games is that there's no penalty for shaking when you're not supposed to, which means it's possible for newbies to get through most songs by simply shaking everything, all the time, everywhere. (You're only punished if you actually miss one of the blobs.) Those put off by the "ga-DUNK" sound of mistimed strums in Guitar Hero can finally relax. There is a downside to this forgiving input system, though: As the difficulty level cranks up to Hard and Superhard, you can't rely upon it to do what you want it to - and the sense of being cheated sucks all the fun out of the experience faster than you can say "ay caramba!"
But stick to mid-level difficulty in a social setting, and Samba de Amigo is a riot, with a songwheel groaning with salsafied tracks. There are a couple of clunkers - a terrible ska cover of A-Ha's "Take On Me," and an unflattering version of Bill Conti's triumphant theme from Rocky - but the good far outweighs the bad. Fizzed-up revamps of classics like "Jump In The Line," "Papa Loves Mambo" and "Tequila" will melt any generational barriers, and even the dreaded Macarena is pretty bearable. (Additional paid-for downloadable master tracks are now available, if your flash drive can take it.)
In an attempt to bolster the package, there are also various unlockable minigames, from an entertaining Whac-A-Mole clone called Guacamole to possibly the worst attempt at beach volleyball in gaming history.
The most inspired feature is actually tucked away in the Options (excuse me, "Options!") screen, where you can change the default maraca FX. (The sound of seeds rattling in hollowed gourds does gets a little boring after a while.) For gamers who used to run early incarnations of Lara Croft repeatedly into badly-textured walls just to hear her go "Unh!" in a repetitive, vaguely sexual manner - it wasn't just me, right? - this makes the game suddenly reborn.
Unlock the Chau sample and your maracas turn into lapdogs, making three different barks and snuffles as you shake. There's even an effect called, rather alarmingly, Sexy. My current favourite is Extreme, which unleashes various kung fu yelps; suddenly you're Bruce Lee duetting with Ricky Martin. Annoyingly, most of the best noises are only unlockable in Superhard Career mode, forcing you to outwit the loosey-goosey controls to claim your sonic prize - it's been a week now and I still haven't managed to complete all the challenges. Reasonable grounds to sue? Probably not.
Bottom line: Rock Band and Guitar Hero obsessives, meet your Kryptonite - a rhythm game that has no truck with finicky technical skill. The maraca is not a Gibson SG. Only your dance moves can save you now.
Recommendation: Shake it like a Polaroid picture ... but only at parties.
Graeme Virtue is a freelance writer based in Scotland. He wrote about his numbskull urge to finish mediocre PS2 action-adventure games in Issue 151 of The Escapist.